Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Florence bus tickets - tickets for the ATAF buses in Firenze


STOP PRESS! As of 1 November 2021, ATAF as such disappears and re-incarnates under the auspices of Autolinee Toscane.

ATAF, or Azienda Tranviaria Automobilistica e Filoviaria, was established on October 25, 1945 to provide public transport in and around Florence. Now the signage has been taken down at the depot in viale dei Mille and the branding is being removed from the buses. On 31 October 2021, management of Florence’s bus service will shift to Autolinee Toscane, which will be in charge of bus services throughout Tuscany.

From 1 November, all times and services are expected to remain unchanged. Tickets may be purchased digitally by sending a SMS stating “Firenze” to 488.01.05 or by using the Tabnet app downloadable from the App Store or Google Play. Passengers will still be able to purchase tickets from official ticket offices, machines and authorised retailers that display the Autolinee Toscane sticker. Existing tickets will no longer be valid after 31 October, but refunds can be requested at Desks 8 and 9 at the Santa Maria Novella bus station ticket office.

STOP PRESS! As of 18th July 2019, Florence's ATAF buses allow contactless payment, meaning credit card touch technology. The system is installed on 355 buses within the city plus the airport bus, and currently accepts MasterCard, VISA, Maestro and V Pay. The ticket price of 1.50 euros and the validity duration of 90 minutes remain unchanged. When asked to produce your ticket by an inspector, simply tell him give the last four digits of the card with which you made the payment.This is an enormous time-saver and obviates the need to validate and manage paper tickets which tend to accumulate in the pockets of busy tourists. We await news on when the system will be installed on the trams.


There are a few simple but important things to know about using the city buses in Florence, Italy.


ATAF bus ticket
ATAF 90 minute bus ticket

ATAF bus tickets should be bought BEFORE you board the bus. They are available from any kiosk (news stand) and from many cafés (bars), and at tobacconists. There are also two ATAF offices very near the SMN railway station where you can buy tickets. The most useful ATAF office is the one at via Alamanni 20r. You can get to it from inside the station by going down the steps leaving the station on the right (when facing away from the platforms), turn right again at the bottom of the steps, go past the very useful Conad supermarket, a florist shop and a post office. The ATAF office is the next place and is open Monday through Saturday 7.15am to 7pm.

In extremity, you can buy a ticket from the driver. Note that he's not obliged to provide change and sales are suspended if an inspector is on board.

how to buy an ATAF bus ticket in Florence
Etiquette indicating that ATAF tickets are sold inside.
Sign indicating a tobacconist - they usually also sell bus tickets
Sign indicating a tobacconist - they usually also sell bus tickets

IMPORTANT Florence ATAF bus tickets must be validated as you enter the bus. You do this by inserting the ticket into the franking machine located beside or just behind the driver, and another near the rear entrance to the bus. Insert the pink strip uppermost and first into the machine. Check your ticket to make sure it was stamped with the date and time. Inspectors have no mercy on those without a ticket or with an unvalidated ticket or with an expired ticket - the fine is on-the-spot and painful (50 euros). If one machine is not working, try the other one. You only escape a fine if both machines are inoperative.

There is a good range of tickets available. Most commonly used is the 90 minute ticket. Using this you can get on and off as many buses as you like in any direction for the 90 minutes from when you validated the ticket.

Other tickets are good for four 90 minute rides. These tickets can be shared as long as they are validated the requisite number of times. For example, two people taking the number 7 bus to Fiesole could frank such a ticket twice to go and again twice to come back later in the day. These tickets have four strips for validation. Be sure not to overwrite your validation.

There are also 24 hours tickets and tickets for several days. Since these tickets are not meant to be passed from one person to another, YOU MUST WRITE YOUR NAME ON LONG DURATION ATAF TICKETS, such as 24 hour and three day tickets.

ATAF tickets are good for the small, electric buses that follow routes mainly through otherwise traffic-free lanes, and also for the trams. They are NOT valid for the bus that runs to and from SMN railway station and the airport. You can buy those tickets on the bus. Note that a taxi from the airport costs a fixed price of 20 euros plus baggage and late hours fees.

Last but not least, there are pickpockets on the buses and trams in Florence, especially when they are crowded and on routes favoured by tourists. Please read this article on pickpockets in Italy to understand what you can do to protect your valuables from these thieves. It's not as bad as in Rome, but they are here in Florence for sure.


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Monday, 25 October 2021

When will Italy be open to visitors again?

UPDATE 25 October 2021: Tourists from outside Italy are free to enter and travel around the country if they are in possession of certification that they have been fully vaccinated against covid19. The same certificate will allow entry into museums and other public spaces.

UPDATE 16 May 2021: Delta Airlines COVID-tested flights between the U.S. and Italy will open to all customers effective today, May 16, following the Italian government's lifting of entry restrictions enabling American leisure travelers to visit Italy again. My recommendation is that you should be vaccinated against covid19 before coming to Italy on vacation. I would even expect that to become Italian government policy.

UPDATE 9 May 2021: The latest hint from the Prime Minister is that Italy will welcome vaccinated visitors from Europe and America starting 15 May 2021. However, let's wait for the official announcement and rules.

STOP PRESS 5 May 2021: Italy is gearing up to welcome back European travellers in the second half of June, says Italian PM Mario Draghi. “We will have to provide clear and simple rules to ensure that tourists can come to Italy safely,” the Prime Minister remarked in his closing remarks at the G20 tourism ministerial meeting held today in Rome. “The European ‘green pass’ will be ready in the second half of June. In the meantime, the Italian government has introduced a nationwide ‘green pass’, which will enter into effect in the second half of May.”

26 April 2021: American tourists who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to visit the European Union over the summer, according to the head of the EU’s executive body, more than a year after shutting down nonessential travel from most countries to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The fast pace of vaccination in the United States and advanced talks between US authorities and the European Union over how to make vaccine certificates acceptable as proof of immunity for visitors will enable the European Commission to recommend a change in policy that would see trans-Atlantic leisure travel restored by summer 2021.

I'm guessing that many of my readers are looking forward to coming to Italy again soon and are naturally pondering the question: "When will Italy be open to visitors again?" Before I give my opinion on that, let's divert ourselves with a brief look at a similar interruption that took place just as mass tourism was beginning.

In England at the beginning of the 19 C, one of the more frustrating aspects of the Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815) was the ban on foreign travel. The English were the continent's greatest travellers. Among the wealthy, the Grand Tour of the 18 C was still a living tradition. Both the classical curriculum at school and the training of manners at home confidently looked to the Grand Tour to complete their work, while the artist fretted to be back in the mellow light of the Campagna and the budding author to add his impressions to an already over-stocked market for Italian travel memoirs. For the ordinary tourist - the "Thomas Cook traveller" avant la lettre - the Peace of Amiens was the first chance to go abroad since the beginning of the war. When war broke out again 14 months later, most tourists on the Continent rushed for home. Only American citizens could travel freely. There was a brief sense of relief in 1814 when Napoleon was sent into exile on Elba, only to escape in February 1815 and rule France again for the 100 Days. His defeat by the British at Waterloo in June 1815 followed by exile to St Helena ended the wars definitively and the tourist trade jumped back into its full stride.

Visitors to Italy - the Uffizi in the 19th century

"Back into its full stride" - that's what we're all hoping for. But when? My best guess is that vaccination against the covid-19 virus will be sufficiently comprehensive in Italy and in the English-speaking countries by mid to late August this year, 2021, that travel to Italy will become possible and increase rapidly. I'm assuming, perhaps optimistically, that new virus mutants will not be resistant to current vaccines.

This might be helped by the introduction of what has been called a "covid passport" confirming that the traveller has been inoculated This kind of thing has been around since WW II in the form of a document confirming inoculation for diseases such as Yellow Fever, compulsory for the issue of a visa to travel to countries where that disease is prevalent. Visa-free travel calls for a slightly different administrative procedure, presumably involving airlines and/or immigration officers, but the principle is the same.

So that's my best guess right now. I will update that as events unfold, but my feeling is that you can book your accommodation for August onwards and flights as soon as the airlines start to offer normal schedules. As in 1815, there's huge pent up demand. I look forward to a good tourism season during the second half of 2021.


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Thursday, 21 October 2021

Did the Etruscans really originate in Anatolia?

A September 2021 genetic study carried out on Etruscan skeletal remains throws new light on the question of whether the Etruscans really originated in Anatolia, during the 8th to 6th centuries BC, as first proposed by Herodotus and Hellanicus of Lesbos, and supported by later genetic studies of modern individuals living in and near Murlo, central Tuscany. Click the following link for a good summary of the facts and theories until now about who the Etruscan were and where they came from.

Origin of the Etruscans

In summary, present-day Tuscan mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) demonstrate a relationship with current Anatolian populations that has been interpreted as evidence for a recent Near Eastern (Lydian) origin of the Etruscans, as proposed as early as Herodotus. This was supported by early studies on mtDNA from Etruscan-associated individuals that did not find any evidence of genetic continuity between Etruscans and present-day populations from the same region, except for some isolated locations in Tuscany

However, the study recently published in Science Advances based on genomic analyses of 82 ancient individuals from Tuscany, Lazio, and Basilicata spanning ca. 2000 years of Italian history, have revealed major episodes of genetic transformation. Across the first interval of the study's central Italian temporal transect (800 to 1 BC), most individuals form a homogenous genetic cluster (designated C.Italy_Etruscan), indicating that the sporadic presence of individuals with ancestry tracing back to other regions did not leave a substantial local genetic legacy. In particular, in agreement with the "local origin" proposal of the historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the first century BC, the Etruscan-related gene pool does not seem to have originated from bronze-age (800 to 600 BC) population movements from the Near East. Etruscans carry a local genetic profile shared with other neighboring populations such as the Latins from Rome and its environs despite the cultural and linguistic differences between the two neighboring groups. Furthermore, according to this new study, a large proportion of the C.Italy_Etruscan genetic profile can be attributed to Iron Age steppe-related ancestry (i.e. not Anatolian), confirming a trend observed in most other European regions.

So what about the Etruscan language? Although Etruscan is a non-Indo-European relict language, which survived in central Italy until the Imperial Period, it was not completely isolated. Instead, Etruscan seems to be linked to both Rhaetic, a language documented in the eastern Alps in a population that ancient historians claim to have migrated from the Po valley, and to Lemnian, a language putatively spoken on ancient Lemnos in the Aegean Sea. The relationship with Rhaetic is hard to account for, but the Anatolian-origin theory proposed that Lemnos was a stepping stone in the migratory path from nearby Lydia in Anatolia to Tuscany. However, the new model proposes that while the Etruscan language remained in place, eastern Mediterranean ancestries replaced a large portion of the native Etruscan-related genetic profile during the Roman Imperial period and not between 800 and 600 BC. This seems exceptionally odd since in almost every other historical example of replacement of a local population by Indo-European invaders, the local language as well as the genes were replaced.

This new study is sure to generate plenty of discussion. For example, the authors do not consider the possibility put forward by some historians that the Etruscans did not replace the native Umbrian population when they arrived from Anatolia but formed a ruling class, as did the Longobards much later, which left genetic markers only rarely (e.g. in the current population around Murlo in Tuscany).

The Volterra Estruscan Museum

The Gods, Goddesses and Mythology of the Etruscans


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Thursday, 14 October 2021

How to visit the Vasari Corridor in Florence

Update 14 October 2021: Visiting of the Vasari Corridor.

In an interview published by Corriere della Sera on 21 October 2021, the director of the Uffizi, Eike Schmidt, expounded on his vision of the "contemporary" Uffizi. One question that interests me and probably a lot of my readers was:"There's been a long wait for the reopening (of the Vasari Corridor) but isn't 45 euros for a ticket to visit the Corridor too much?", Schmidt explained that the price is much lower than the one demanded by the private agencies (essentially ticket scalpers) who routinely snatched up the few tickets available before the corridor closed in 2016. In essence, his reply continued to the effect that the price is determined by the market. 

I'm not all that convinced by the Director's neo-con economics response.The Vasari Corridor, with 125 admissions at a time, will obviously have more demand than supply during high season, and therefore can impose high prices (even much more than 45 euros). In low season, the price will drop to 20 euros to be competitive. And it is clear that these prices make both the museum's accountants and the ticket scalpers, who will ask for a large share of tickets, happy. It is a pity, however, that the Uffizi, as a public service, does not work more for the benefit of the tax payers who have invested 10 million euros into renovation of the Corridor, rather than for the bank balances of the museum and the scalpers. The taxpayers have invested rightly, given that citizens must be able to benefit from the heritage that belongs to them, but wouldn't it be reasonable that they don't have to pay a lot of money all over again to enjoy this heritage?

Update 18 March 2021: Tours of the Vasari Corridor.

IMPORTANT: there are no legitimate tours of the Vasari Corridor being offered currently but it looks like that the Vasari Corridor will re-open on 27 May, 2022, and will be accessible by ticket. Apparently it will not be necessary to be part of a tour group.

Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery, has announced that the Vasari Corridor will officially become a part of the Uffizi after reopening in 2022. Visitors will then be able to enter the Uffizi, stroll through the Vasari Corridor and then explore the Boboli Gardens or the Pitti Palace. Tickets will cost €45 in high season, €20 in low season and will be free for students.

Route of the Vasari Corridor in Florence
Route of the Vasari Corridor in Florence

One disappointing aspect is that the many excellent self-portraits currently hanging in the Vasari Corridor will be removed because it won't be possible to climate control the corridor suitable for paintings on canvas and wood.

The Vasari Corridor from above
The Vasari Corridor from above
According to the official Uffizi website, no tours of the Vasari Corridor are now available, and anybody who offers such a tour is committing a fraud:

"False information concerning nocturnal visits of the Uffizi and Vasari Corridor
The Administration of the Uffizi Galleries confirms that these promotional contents are totally unfounded. From 1 December 2016 until further notice the Corridor remains closed for works of safety regulatory compliance. Consequently no bookings will be accepted.
False information is spreading on Facebook about nocturnal openings of the Uffizi and Vasari Corridor on various dates with visits organized by associations/groups which are unknown to us, such as Firenze Vista di Notte. The Administration of the Uffizi Galleries has already filed a lawsuit against the fraudsters and confirms that these promotional contents are totally unfounded."

The official website for the Uffizi tickets is https://www.uffizi.it/en/tickets - once again note that many other official-looking web sites offer Uffizi tickets at enormous markups.

Vasari corridor Uffizi Florence
Interior of the Vasari Corridor in Florence as it was until closed in 2016.
The corridor was lined with paintings, the more interesting ones being an amazing series of self-portraits by famous and not so famous artists, including a surprising number of the Pre-Raphaelites - for example, a very fine self-portrait of William Holman Hunt. These pictures will now be displayed elsewhere in the Uffizi and will be replaced by thirty ancient sculptures along with a space dedicated to 16th century frescoes. 

Empty interior of the Vasari Corridor

The corridor had a doorway and still has a window opening into a balcony high up in the church of Santa Felicita so that the Medici family could attend mass privately, without being seen or subject to attack. The especially large windows overlooking the Ponte Vecchio were specially created for a visit by Mussolini in the late 30's. Part of the corridor snakes around the Torre Mannelli which belonged to the only family that Cosimo I was unable to buy out. Instead of building through the tower, Vasari built around it using a system of supporting brackets. Cosimo was quite sanguine about this - every man is king in his own house, he reportedly observed. The meat market on Ponte Vecchio was moved to avoid its smell permeating the passage, its place being taken by the goldsmith shops that still occupy the bridge.

More about the Vasari Corridor in the 19th and 20th centuries.

More about what to see and do in Florence.

More about Florence Museum Cards and Florence Museum Passes.




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